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6. Apr, 2015

The next 5 days sees us travelling down to Kuakata, via Barisal, by boat, with a possible excursion to the Sundarban UNESCO World Heritage Site thrown in. Kuakata, on the southernmost tip of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal, is a sea beach and village from where it is possible to watch the sun both rise and set (if you can wake up early enough). It was a toss-up between visiting here or Cox’s Bazar, one of the World’s longest uninterrupted natural sandy sea beaches. The deciding factor was the Sundarbans. 

The Sundarbans National Park, covering 10,000 square kilometres, (60% of which is in Bangladesh, with the remainder in India) is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal Tiger. It is also, apparently, the largest single block of halophytic (I had to look this up) mangrove forest in the World. 

Unfortunately, the Bay of Bengal also poses some possible danger, namely pirates. I’m not talking about the cute type of pirates that swig rum and sing songs, rather the real type that abduct and hold for ransom. I tell you this not for a bravado purpose, but because I’ve seen too many films where people go somewhere without telling anyone and, as a result, are stuck with nobody out looking for them. Given that it’s a five/six day trip, expect no contact until Monday/Tuesday, after which, panic! If someone needs to identify my body at any point, look for the guy with shaved testicles (remember, excursion = grooming), and a special tattoo in the same area of my anatomy. 

The above does not yet worry me yet though, the part that I am already not looking forward to is the travelling. If it takes three hours to travel 30km, and we are travelling approximately 320km, how many times will I lose the plot, cry, and have my oh-so-comforting friends point, laugh, and say “Ems, your cock is raining again!” 

I’ll let you know when I’m back. Toodle-pip, and wish me luck.

5. Apr, 2015

Three quarters of Bangladesh is less than 10m above sea level, and 80% of it is flood plain. Combined with the fact that it is situated on the Ganges Delta, and other tributaries that flow into the Bay of Bengal (namely, the Brahmaputra and Meghna), the additional water that flows due to the annual melting of Himalayan snow, and the heavy monsoon rains, it is no wonder that the country is so prone to flooding. 

Apparently each year, on average, 18% of the country is flooded at any one time. The most recent catastrophic examples occurred in 1998, when 75% of the country was flooded, and again in 2004, though not quite to the same extent, with just(!) two-thirds of the country under water. Even as recently as 2007, flooding forced 9 million people into homelessness, and resulted in the death of over 1000 people (stats vary, depending on the source – some sources claim that up to 30 million people became homeless as a result of these floods, and that up to 100,000 lives were lost!) 

In 2004, 300mm of rain fell in just 7 days. In comparison, Newcastle upon Tyne, a particularly wet area in the North East of England (in my experience) has on average just 700mm in an entire 12 month period. It was no exaggeration in my previous post when I wrote that water rises above the ankles on the streets here after just 30 minutes of heavy rain. Imagine then the effect of regular thunderstorms and heavy rainfall for a period of several days. 

There was another notable catastrophe in 1991 when a cyclone hit the country, killing more than 135,000 people, and making more than 10 million people homeless. It’s described by the History website as one of the worst disasters of the 20th century. I vaguely remember doing a project in Primary School about flooding in Bangladesh when I was 7/8, so it must’ve been in the aftermath of this very incident. I remember thinking “What’s the difference between a Cyclone, a Hurricane, and a Typhoon?” Fast forward 22 years, and I have finally looked up the answer. 

Cyclone is the name given to hurricane-type storms that arise in the Indian Ocean, while Typhoons are those that start in the Pacific Ocean and Hurricanes are those found in the Atlantic.

There’s not much to see or do in this particular area at the best of times, but when you’re stuck inside and the electricity fails, I guess you could describe the ‘current state’ as poor. That doesn’t stop life from continuing here, nor does it stop some nutcases from insisting on driving. It’s almost a novelty here to ride in a car, given the expense that goes hand in hand with owning a car. I’m afraid I don’t share in the fun element though, certainly not when 7 people are stuffed into the thing and heads and elbows are poking my ribs and face. The only time a mouthful of hair is acceptable is when I’m cwtching a beautiful woman – and even then she’d better damn well be worth it! 

In more positive news, my flight to Nepal is booked, and I plan to be based there for approximately a month from the middle of April onwards. At least now, when I’m bored and sat in the dark, or when I’m in the car choking on someone’s ponytail, I have another new chapter to look forward to and keep me distracted. 

p.s. Happy Easter

3. Apr, 2015

I should’ve known. Welsh people who visit are bound to bring with them the weather. A 3-day visit resulted in a 3-day lightning storm with torrential rain and flooding. Within just 30 minutes, the streets are flooded past your ankles, but nobody seems to bat an eyelid, it’s just what happens from time to time. I wondered whether we’d receive instructions to get to higher ground at one point, but that question was just laughed off. Nobody suffers from premature evacuation here. 

Most of us are used to 4 seasons in a year: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, though more suitable titles in Wales would be “Heavy rain”, “Warm rain”, “Windy rain”, and “Cold rain”. Here, the year is spilt into six seasons: Summer, Monsoon, Autumn, Late Autumn, Winter, and Spring. This month marks the beginning of Monsoon season, not the ideal time perhaps to arrange a boat trip along the Buriganga River but, hey, what’s life without an element of risk eh? An apology if this is boring you, talking about the weather is just such a British thing to do. A friend of mine back home is always complaining that all his colleagues ever do is talk about the bloody weather – the sooner he leaves the meteorological office, the better. 

Nobody seems to suffer food poisoning here, and when you see how it’s cooked, this is close to miraculous. Street food is probably the tastiest food available, far more so than anything you find in a restaurant. From Singaras (deep fried stuffed pastries) to Fuskas (a crispy shell stuffed with spices), to meat stuffed pancake ‘Rolls’, there’s plenty of variety. If you’re fussy though, try not to watch them cook it, or ask them what it is. After eating one particular ‘roll’, I then watched him prepare a fresh batch. He dipped his hand into an old (hopefully washed, but possibly not) petrol canister, pulled out some seasoned raw chicken, and popped it in his wok. He then used the same (unwashed) hand to prepare the finished article. At the next stand, seeing no petrol canisters nearby, we opted to try a beef version. Cow stomach, it turns out, is rather fatty, chewy, and quite vomit-y. 

Lessons continued during the visit, though not without incident. One particular class was interrupted with an instruction that everyone had to attend a debating competition downstairs because it would be good for their education. I contested that their time would be better spent in-class, given their final exams are imminent. The tète-a-tète continued for several minutes before he conceded defeat, and I was allowed to continue my lesson. Everyone won because the students still experienced a real-life debate, before cracking on with revision. 

Every now and then, when learning languages, one makes the sort of faux pas that will ensure a word is remembered forevermore. When I was learning Spanish as an 18 year old in South America, I tried to tell my teacher that I liked burgers. I used the word ‘Verga’ (the ‘v’ is pronounced as a soft ‘b’). I told her that everyone in Britain likes verga, and that we eat most of our verga after a night out because we love it so much when we’re drunk. It transpired that the word for burger in Spanish is ‘hamburguesa’. ‘Verga’ means ‘cock’ – now read those last three sentences again – she never looked at me the same again. 

In Bangla, I have recently made a similar error. When one is crying, one says ‘my eyes are raining’ (“Amar chock brishti”). Unfortunately, the dictionary leaves out the ‘h’ in that second word. For weeks now, I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that, when I’m very upset, my cock rains heavily. Perhaps it’s a good thing now that I’m soon to leave the country…..

31. Mar, 2015

They say that ‘necessity is the mother of all inventions’. I’d add that necessity is also the mother of any rapid improvement. When one has no fluent speaker in one’s company, and one is forced into conversation, it transpires that one understands a helluva lot more than one initially believed. This was the situation in which I found myself today. 

Friends have decided to pop by in Bangladesh on their way to India, and I resolved to meet them at the airport. With no arrivals area in this airport, the only thing to do is to stand outside and wait, along with approximately 150 Bangladeshis, in a crowd consisting of waiting friends and relatives and taxi drivers hunting for some vulnerable pray on whom they can practice some financial extortion. Being white makes me the pray – the lamb amongst the wolves per se. 

6 weeks ago, I arrived at the same airport without a single word of Bangla. This made the gathering, questioning crowd somewhat intimidating. Now, this is my town! You may think this is arrogant, but I’m totally awesome, so it’s also true. It turns out I can banter in Bangla, and I can get the message across that I have no intention of putting up with any sh!t. I can also haggle prices for transport. Win! I also found myself just as interested as the locals whenever I saw other white people arriving. I swear I heard some Italian being spoken by one couple. I’ve always hated the Italians with their slanty eyes…..no, wait…..’Italics’…..I’ve always hated Italics with their slanty “I”s. 

In addition to the language element, it is also very strange to think that I’m now acting as tour guide for the city “that’s where the bomb went off; that’s where we were robbed; that’s the bus that takes you to the hospital; that restaurant will give you food poisoning” – I never said I was a good tour guide….. 

Unfortunately, this new role as tour guide has resulted in my first painful sunburn. It’s today that I realise for the first time that I’ve brought two pots of protective sun cream and no after sun lotion, instead of one of each. I guess those pesky kids were right in yesterday’s class when they listed some of the disadvantages of having no hair. I am in for a right ribbing tomorrow.

I also exchanged numbers with one friendly chap I met at the airport. Later, I received this text: 

Song depends on voice, dress depends on choice, wind depends on sky, crops depend on land, fish depends on water, but friendship depends on sweet mind.hi friend i miss u. 

So, the question now is this: Do I meet him for tea, or not? Cast your votes now…..

30. Mar, 2015

“Totes awks” is, as I understand, what the kids say these days when they mean “totally awkward”. Today was full of awkwardness. 

I believe that good debating skills are extremely important in life. The ability to convince someone to listen to you, and/or to buy into your ideas can take you a long way. There are many approaches you can take to debating: aggressive; assertive; polite; patronising; or my favourite, the ‘boomerang’ approach. The boomerang approach is when you lead someone to believe you are agreeing with them, only to snatch it straight back away from them. I find this approach has worked for me over the years because the other person will tend to only absorb the bit they like to hear, assume the rest is also positive, and just let you carry on. For example, “that is clearly a very well-thought out plan that has taken many things into consideration…..but I disagree so I’ll do it this way instead”. 

If I may generalise for a moment, I have found that men and women use this boomerang approach in different ways. Men have a tendency for boomerang compliments: “Wow, you look incredible…..today”; “Your bum looks amazing…..in that dress” whereas women have the perfect knack for boomerang apologies: “I’m really sorry…..that you weren’t listening at the time”; “I feel simply awful about calling your friend a bitch…..but she totally is one” Listen out for these and you’ll hear them more often than you realise. 

Anyway, today’s lesson was about debating. One of the weaknesses in the education system here is that it does not promote critical or creative thinking. It’s very difficult therefore to encourage students to try to argue against what they actually believe. In an effort to find a subject that could not cause offence, I split the class into two, each having to argue for or against the statement “Being bald is better than having hair” (not a single student in the class is bald) Here is a list of the arguments they came up with supporting and opposing this statement. 

Supporting arguments

Saves money on shampoo

Takes less time to get ready in the morning

Your head is cooler in the summer 

Opposing arguments

You are not respected

Your head gets burnt in the sun

You will never find a wife or girlfriend

You will never get a job

Nobody wants to be your friend

You will need to buy a lot of different hats so life would be more expensive

You look like an egg 

Ouch! I felt my manhood shrink several inches by the end of this lesson :-( 

Never mind, we had a lovely evening planned ahead of us – a visit to Jamuna Future Park to watch a film with another someone befriended on a train journey. Jamuna Future Park is a shopping mall, located in the heart of Dhaka – it is the largest in South Asia, and the 11th largest in the World, though it is so expensive to lease a plot that most of it remains unoccupied. First, we had to get there. CNGs are designed for a maximum of three people so any remainder people must travel in the front, next to the driver, as close to him as one can ever get to another human being. This particular driver had an additional finger that had grown out of his wrist. That’s not the awkward part. The awkward part was the fact that he clearly had no sensation in this finger and, as a result, it spent the entirety of the journey effectively stroking my knee – clearly the finger had no objections to my baldness! 

We arrived in time for a bite to eat before the film, though I really wish now that we hadn’t. It’s disconcerting to be in a restaurant with no other patrons, order some food that’s best eaten cooked thoroughly, but have that food served within a few minutes after hearing a microwave ping five times. I expect to lose some more weight rapidly when that food reaches my stomach. Unable yet to sit through a film in Bangla without subtitles, our Bangladeshi friend agreed to watch an English film, thinking he’d understand enough to get the gist of it. Typically, it had some of the most complex plot and dialogue that I’ve ever seen, with one 20-minute scene talking about bureaucracy in an Alien society. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t paid over the odds only to sit there on his phone the entire film because he understood none of what was happening. Still, better to be silent than to be one of ‘those’ people in a cinema “Wow, did you see that?” “No, I spent £10 to sit here for two hours and stare at the f*cking ceiling – of course I saw it, now shut up and watch!” 

Some films are better when you watch them backwards though. Titanic became a feel-good movie, The Passion of the Christ had a happier ending, and Old Yeller was about a dog that came back to life, was cured of rabies, and lived happily ever after. This doesn’t work with all films though. The Lord of the Rings trilogy just becomes about a little man who finds a cool ring in a volcano and then spends 8 hours walking home.